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Adapted in English by Valérie Harnois

For many years, environmentalists, scientists, farmers, and other groups have been sounding the alarm. The exchange of germs is becoming more frequent than it was before. They note that every 14 to 16 months, a new infection appears. The conditions for these infections to develop, transmit, and remain active are more and more favourable. 

While finding out about COVID-19, you may have heard of zoonosis (zoonoses) or zoonotic diseases. If you did, it was probably in the context of the source of the virus causing the present pandemic. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that naturally transmit from vertebrate animals to humans, or vice versa. In the case of COVID-19, the virus could have been transmitted from a bat or a pangolin to humans. 

Being curious about the eco-epidemiology of zoonoses is actually quite trendy nowadays. The eco-epidemiology (or environmental epidemiology) looks at the influence of environmental factors on the transmission of diseases. More specifically, it looks at the influence exerted among animals, from humans to animals, from animals to humans, and it also looks at plants and the surrounding ecology. 

But what kind of diseases are we talking about actually? Every disease and germ that needs a specific reservoir to develop and transmit. The reservoir can be a human, an animal, an insect, water, or even dirt. Germs include viruses (i.e., COVID-19, AIDS), bacteria (i.e., meningitis, tetanus, cholera, Lyme disease), parasites (i.e., lice, malaria, pinworm, ringworm), or prions (i.e., abnormal proteins that cause infectious diseases such as scrapie or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease also known as mad-cow disease). 

Humans tend to occupy more and more space on the planet. This occupation affects the reservoirs of those germs which is necessary for germs to develop. Humans are destroying animals’ natural habitats, polluting water, gathering a lot of animals together for agriculture, transporting and moving contaminated merchandise from one continent to another, travelling to discover new horizons… Humans have therefore created, inadvertently, the perfect conditions for the spread of germs. We can also add to this the effect of global warming which forces animals to modify their habits and move around to survive. 

In Quebec, we are not sheltered from these germs. Just think of all the ones circulating in schools: lice, pinworms, gastroenteritis, colds, chickenpox… And if we walk in the forest, we have to be wary of tics that can be reservoirs for Lyme disease. 

These germs have different lifespans and require a reservoir to keep spreading. To protect yourself, you must break the chain of infection. In the case of COVID-19, the confinement is one of the methods to stop the virus from spreading and contaminating other people. It is also imperative to adopt good hygiene practices by washing your hands often, among other measures. However, we must study the eco-epidemiological phenomenon to understand what allows various organisms to become reservoirs and how germs are transmitted. 

By now, you know that germs have always existed and always will. A better understanding of the causes can help control epidemics, put in place measures to avoid them, or, at least, to reduce their consequences with vaccines and medication. We become more and more aware that it is important to educate as many people as possible on this subject so that future decisions are coherent and work toward the same goal, which is to limit the transmission of germs and maintain the balance in the various ecosystems. 

Time for a Challenge!

Using Scratch Junior or Scratch, create (code) the pathway a germ can take in its environment and cross over to other reservoirs.

Disciplines and Grade Levels

– Elementary 

– Secondary

Dimensions of the Digital Competency

Suggested Digital Tools

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this activity, students will better understand the issues surrounding the transmissions of germs and diseases.

☝️ Activity: An Anti-Germ Protocol 

At school, a lot of germs are circulating. Think of lice, pinworms (intestinal worms), gastroenteritis, colds, the flu, and other diseases such as chickenpox, measles and many others. Since schools facilitate closeness among students and school personnel, germs definitely have a chance to spread. It is, however, possible to put in places some measures to protect ourselves.

The following activity will allow the group to put in place standard procedures to protect everyone from germs and break the chain of infection.  

  1. Organize a group discussion where students name the germs they think causes the most inconveniences at school (use the smart board to note the answers). 
  2. As a class, choose the germs that you would like to fight (a secret vote can be done using Mentimeter). 
  3. Create a protection procedure or protocol against this germ (to do so, an infographic can be done using Canva)
  4. For a specific period of time (during winter for instance), note the contamination cases in the classroom using a spreadsheet such as Numbers or Excel. Make that graph available weekly using the collected date.  
  5. After a few weeks, evaluate the efficiency of your protocol. Review its modalities if needed. 

☝️ Activity: A Scientific Comic Strip

Create a story in the form of a comic strip where the issue is an eco-epidemiological crisis. The context can be set around a germ that students invent or one that already exists. Students will supply information on the symptoms, the reservoirs, the places, and the favourable conditions for its transmission. A research can be done to find the accurate information if a real germ is used for this task. The story must have a scientific aspect as well as an ethical aspect. Platforms such as ComicLifeBDnF or Book Creator are recommended for this creation.

☝️ Activity: Virus or Bacteria?

How can we find out if a germ is a virus, a parasite, a bacteria, or a prion? A research will provide the answer. First, students make an inventory of germs that may by circulating in the classroom, the school, or the city. Then, they research their characteristics to define them and classify them. Finally, using Quizizz, students create their own quiz to challenge their classmates on their newly acquired knowledge about germs.

🚀 Other Ideas To Explore

The YouTube Chain OpenLearn offers many videos and documentaries of a wide variety of subjects :

This video explains five times where virus jumped from animals to humans. 


🔎 To Learn More

An Introduction to Infectious Disease
University of Wisconsin

Can Animals Make you Ill?
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of Netherlands

Eco-Epidemiology: Ecology’s Impact on Public Health
Mailmain Columbia

Introduction to Epidemiology
CDC

Zoonosis
Wikipedia 

Zoonosis
Health Line

Epidemiology
McGill University

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